HEAVEN AND HELL
First we need to ask if there is a future after we leave this life and if so how is this existence described. Thus here we will seek to answer three specific questions:
1. Do the Scriptures show that man is alive after he leaves the earth?
2. What names and descriptions are given to the places where they are alive?
3. Is everybody in one place?
Do Scriptures show that man is alive after he leaves the earth?
To the human mind, and because of the way we look at things, death seems to be the end but it is only the end of this life as we know it. Do Scriptures give any indication that life continues, in another dimension, after leaving this life
Luke 20:37, 38 present Jesus’ clear and unambiguous argument that as God is not the God of the dead but the living, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must have been raised from the dead and be conscious. As Jesus said this before He died and was raised so there must have been life after ‘this life’ for some even before His coming.
Does Scripture show this conscious life after death spoken of by Jesus? The following verses among many give the answer.
“Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, I pray You, let this child’s life return to him. The LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.” 1 Kings 17:21, 22.
Where had the life gone after it had left the body so that it could return?
“And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah,” – Luke 9:30
Moses and Elijah were actually speaking with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration; they obviously had some form of continuation of life.
“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” – Revelation 6:9, 10
Souls that had been slain on the earth, and so died from a human perspective, were alive and talking in heaven.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” – Hebrews 12:22, 23
Spirits of righteous men continue in a form of life in heaven.
“So that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:10, 11.
Those under earth could not worship the Lord if they did not continue in some form of life.
Resurrection in Scripture is shown to be the means by which the complete transfer of our life from this world to the next takes place. The only point of resurrection in Scripture is to bring us into this complete new life and the fact that it is mentioned at all shows there must be life after the life we live now.
1 Corinthians 15:35-53 especially shows that our physical bodies will put on incorruption and immortality. Paul taught that in the resurrection our bodies would be raised in a whole new state that would continue forever.
Indeed without the hope of resurrection after death, we live a miserable existence.
“If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most to be pitied.” – 1 Corinthians 15:19.
The Bible clearly shows that man is alive.
Hebrews 4:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 both show that man has three distinct parts. It is true that sometimes the words are used interchangeably and it is not always easy to put this doctrine into a nice watertight container. However, it is clear from Scripture that man has both a spirit and a soul and there is that which is eternal that goes beyond death.
Genesis 2:7. The Bible does sometimes use the word ‘soul’ to talk of the whole man. However, it also talks about the ‘soul’ as a special part that was created by the breath of the eternal God breathing into Adam?
Adam was complete as a person but was not called a nephesh, the Hebrew word translated soul. Only when ‘life’ was placed in him by means of God’s breath was he called a soul. That life was not nephesh but it made him a nephesh.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 shows the spirit returns to God who made it but the body will return to dust from where it came from; a clear example of there being an eternal part to man.
Matthew 10:28, 29 shows that even though a person’s body can be killed. No man and not even Satan can destroy the soul, only God who created it could do this. There has to be part of man that survives the death of the body.
The Greek word for destroy found in Matthew 10:28 is apollumi can never mean annihilate and so this verse cannot be used to teach that there is nothing after death. It is more centred on the person of God than the attribute of the soul. Indeed Matthew 10:28 could be read as follows:
“And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to cause your body and soul to be ‘lost’ and ‘ruined’ in hell.”
What names & descriptions are given to the places where they are alive?
There are 3 words in the original languages that we must be especially aware of and know what they mean. In some English versions of the Bible these words are given different translations and so it is important we check the original meaning. The Hebrew word I appears 66 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word hades appears 10 times in the New Testament and the Greek word gehenna appears 12 times in the New Testament.
There is also the Greek word tartarus that only appears once, in 2 Peter 2:4. This last word need not concern this current investigation because we are told that this is a special abode for disobedient angels not men.
Greek scholar W. E.Vine sums up the use of sheol, hades and gehenna, in the Scriptures, as follows:
“Hades …the region of departed spirits and the lost (but including the blessed dead in periods preceding the Ascension of Christ) …It corresponds to ‘Sheol’ in the O[ld] T[estament]. In the A[uthorised] V[ersion] of the O[ld] T[estament] and N[ew] T[estament], it has been unhappily rendered ‘Hell,’ …or ‘the grave,’ …or ‘the pit’ … It never denotes the grave, nor is it the permanent region of the lost; in point of time it is for such, intermediate between decease and the doom of Gehenna.” – Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol.2, pp.187/8.
“Hell …Geenna represents the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom (the valley of Tophet) …’the eternal fire’ is mentioned as the doom, the character of the region standing for the region itself.” – Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol.2, p.212.
The Bible shows that the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word hades refer to the same place but the Greek word gehenna refers to a different place.
Gehenna represents the valley of the Son of Hinnom south-east of Jerusalem. Here during Old Testament times children were offered to the false god Moloch and later Jews used the valley to dispose of their rubbish, dead animals and unburied criminals. To consume all this, a fire burned continuously and gnawing worms abounded. It was a vile place.
Is there consciousness in Sheol and Hades?
“Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come; it arouses for you the spirits of the dead, all the leaders of the earth; it raises all the kings of the nations from their thrones. They will all respond and say to you, ‘Even you have been made weak as we, you have become like us your pomp and the music of your harps have been brought down to Sheol; maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you and worms are your covering.’ – Isaiah 14:9-11
There is excitement and discussion in sheol.
“The strong among the mighty ones shall speak of him and his helpers from the midst of Sheol, They have gone down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.” – Ezekiel 32:21
There is speech in sheol.
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” – Revelation 20:13, 14
First Hades gives up those in it for judgement and then with death is thrown into the lake of fire.
“…This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power… and so, because he (David) was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT ONE OF HIS DECEDENTS ON HIS THRONE, HE looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.” – Acts 2:23-32
Jesus went to and through Hades indicating that it was a place to pass through and not a permanent abode. There is also a distinction in these verses between the soul ‘abandoned’ in Hades but the flesh ‘suffering decay’. The body is in the grave decaying but the soul is either in Hades or with the Lord [see Luke 23:43].
Bible references to Sheol and Hades do not mention a terrifying ‘hell’ full of torment for those within. On the other hand the references to Gehenna reveal such a place and condition not to be recommended. The Jews of Jesus’ day certainly had a vivid picture of what being thrown alive into Gehenna would be like for them. They knew all about the valley of the Son of Hinnom. [See Mark 9:42-48.]
Matthew 5:29, 30 – It is better to lose part of one’s body than end up in hell. If hell is only the common grave of the non-existent then this Scripture doesn’t make sense.
Matthew 23:33 – Why try and escape from the common grave?
Matthew 26:24 – It is better not to have been born. This is nonsense if hell is non-existence because his end would have been the same as his beginning.
Is everybody in one place?
What we have in Scripture is first a picture of the place of the dead where they wait for final judgment and final destination. They are not dead but alive even if in a different realm and different way as we understand ‘alive’.
However, this is not a permanent place as we have seen from Acts 2 with Jesus passing through and Revelation 20 when the dead are given up for judgment.
From here however we get a distinct difference; Revelation 20:14 & 15 contrasts those whose names are written in the book life with those who are cast into the lake of fire. Two groups of people, for one the end is eternal life and for the other the second death.
The places where the two groups reside are often called heaven and hell, but as these names conjure up all sorts of different pictures, depending on ones upbringing, they are probably better described as those who are in the presence of the Lord where He is, and those outside of His presence. Thus we see that there are two distinct groups of people and they are in two different places.
Torment – hell
At this point as with think about the place called ‘hell’ we need to understand the meaning of another Greek word translated ‘torment’, basanizo. Vine says of this word:
“…primarily, to rub on the touchstone, to put to the test, then, to examine by torture …hence denotes to torture, torment, distress.” – Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol.4, p.141.
This root Greek word is used in Scripture to describe a number of different uncomfortable situations, as the following demonstrates:
Matthew 8:6 – A paralysed manservant, suffering great pain.”
Matthew 14:24 – Battered by the waves.”
Mark 6:48 – Straining at the oars, literally harassed in rowing.
Revelation 14:10 – tormented with fire and brimstone.
Revelation 20:10 – The torment goes on day and night forever.
This is the way that conditions are described in the place called ‘hell’ where those who are not found in the book of life consign themselves to.
This last statement is important to understand; the Lord wishes no one to perish and has shown the way to life. If I refuse to accept the way open to me, the cure for all the wrong in my life and the healing of my spirit, I am choosing my own destiny.
“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28
God created the soul and He is the only one who can destroy it. Here we see not so much a detailed teaching on hell but an understanding that we should fear God more than men and go His way rather than man’s way.
He is able to destroy in hell which is why we are to fear Him but as the next verses point out – He does not want to. There of course will be judgement for those who have done wrong that is a secure place to live in but Jesus already took the judgment and there is no need for me to be consigned in this way.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:29-32
Revelation 19:20 – The Watchtower Society rightly say that only dead bodies were thrown into the valley of Hinnom. However into this fire persons were cast alive.
Does Satan control this Eternal realm?
Knowing that we are in God’s will brings an awareness of hell but not a dread of it. We are to fear God and trust Him because He does not want to cast us into hell rather He wants to save us from it.
There are three other things we should consider, first:
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels… These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:34-36.
Again here Jesus clearly shows there are two groups of people going to two different places but please note that both are described as ‘eternal’. The Greek word is aionios and literally means perpetual. Both are described as lasting the same ‘length of time’ and both are described as perpetual or always in being.
Second, this is not, despite popular depiction, a place where Stan is in control, he is in prison there – see Revelation 20:10.
Third, from man’s point of view, on earth in time – it is different from God’s eternal perspective – hell is not in existence yet because the final judgment has not taken place. Still people go to Hades, the place of the dead to await the final judgment.
Lord’s Presence – heaven
Finally we will just look at a few Scriptures that talk about the realm of being with the Lord in His presence for eternity.
“But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” Philippians 1:23, 24
“We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 5:8
When those that are saved die they go straight to be with the Lord
“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” – John 14:1-4
Not described here as heaven but says where I am, there you will be.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” – Rev 21:1-4
This is why it is not described as just heaven because it will all be back to one Kingdom, just as it was before sin entered the world. All of God’s people will be in place with the Lord in the midst, new heavens and new earth all together.